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Portlandia: Season 2 (Blu-ray Review)

Portlandia is a Peabody award-winning sketch comedy series that stars SNL’s Fred Armisen and musician Carrie Brownstein.  The show is centered in and around the city of Portland, Oregon, with much of its humor acting as a sort of satirical take on alternative and hipster lifestyles.  It features a variety of guest stars in every episode and has recently started its third season.  I certainly believe that the show can be an acquired taste, given how dry some of the comedy can be and, to counterbalance this, how absurd or surreal some of the comedy is.  Having watched only a couple episodes from the first season and finding them fairly humorous, I was happy to see what the acclaimed second season was bringing to the table.  Continue on to learn more about my thoughts on Season 2 of Portlandia, as well as the quality of this Blu-ray package for the series.

Season:

Portlandia is the kind of show that I was not sure about whether or not I would ever like it.  It is a sketch comedy series, with friends/wirter/creators Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein being involved in every single sketch.  It has a satirical vibe mixed with a lot of alternative-style comedy, which could easily rub some the wrong way, which is probably why it is on the Independent Film Channel (IFC).  Each episode tends to have a loose running theme revolving around one or two of the sketches, interspersed with many sketches that are all unrelated.  The real connecting thread is that many of these sketches have Armisen and Brownstein playing reoccurring characters, which is a fun way to establish a certain type of continuity for the series, similar to Comedy Central’s Reno: 911, for example, as that show had characters established, with sketches based around them (Mr. Show would be another decent example).

The Second Season consists of 10 Episodes:

Mixologist – Featuring guest Andy Samberg

One Moore Episode – Featuring Jeff Goldblum, Edward James Olmos, and Battlestar Galactica creator (the re-imagined version) Ronald D. Moor

Cool Wedding – Featuring Jack McBrayer and Shohreh Aghdashloo

Grover – Featuring no one in particular, but has a killer opening

Cops Redesign – Featuring Sean Hayes and Kyle MacLachlan

Cat Nap – Featuring Kristen Wiig, Amber Tamblyn, and Miranda July

Motorcycle – Featuring musicians Robin Pecknold and Joanna Newsom

Feminist Bookstore’s 10th Anniversary – Featuring Penny Marshall and LaMarcus Aldridge

No Olympics – Featuring Greg Louganis, and musicians Johnny Marr, and Bruce Cockburn

Brunch Village – Featuring Ed Begley, Jr., Tim Robbins, Steve Jones, and Kyle MacLachlan

It honestly took me about 3 episodes, before I finally really got into this show.  The style of humor takes a bit of adjusting, at least for me it did, but once I understood where the humor was going to be coming from and how it would be staged, I started to feel much more engaged with the show as a whole.  There is not a whole lot of evolving in the style of the show, but I do admire the low-budget nature of the series and how Armisen, Brownstein, and their other co-creator and director for many of the episodes, Jonathan Krisel, are able to make the most of what they have.  The look of this show is certainly minimal, as it is shot on location in various parts of Portland and has an indie-film tone, as opposed to feeling in anyway colorful and sitcom-y.  All of the characters, guest stars or not, are given a specific type of look, which doesn’t necessarily reflect just the town of Portland, but any kind of low-key town, full of specific character types.

I listed many of the guest stars of this season with the episodes, but it should be said that they all seem to be quite happy to be involved.  Some of them are more outlandish than others (Kristen Wiig, Andy Samberg, Tim Robbins), but the one that gets me the most is Kyle Maclachlan, who has this hilarious sense of whimsy in the character he plays, which makes me smile.  Given that I never see Maclachlan really dig into comedy, the fact that he is so enthusiastic as “The Mayor” of Portland (with the real mayor playing his Aide) is a lot of fun to watch.

None of this really takes away from Armisen and Brownstein though, who are clearly great at working together.  These two have a lot of different characters to roll through, throughout this season, but the ones that keep coming back have either an endearing or strangely intriguing factor about them, which makes me welcoming the sight of them again.  Some of these characters are more malleable than the others, but it makes for a wide variety of sketches, while still bringing some type of continuity to the world that’s being created.  This is a big reason as to why I love the season finale, which manages to combine many of the reoccurring characters, who are only played by two people.

I was really happy to enjoy Portlandia as much as I did.  I can still easily understand if some people don’t quite get into the type of humor that this show presents, but the way it tackles a satirical look at society in a low-key way, mixed with having a sketch comedy series that offers up continuity as a well to stay connected with it is a good way to keep me coming back.  I was happy to move fairly quickly through every episode of this season and look forward to eventually checking out Season 3.

Video:

Portlandia is unsurprisingly fairly average in the video department, as far as its Blu-ray presentation is concerned.  The AVC-encoded 1080p transfer does enough justice to a series that is filmed on location and with minimal setup.  The show is not about lavish production design and bright colors, but you can see the details and textures that this series has to offer.  Natural light makes up for the setting of the show, which does not lead to the best of quality for this kind of series, given how “earthy” it essentially is.  With that said, despite some murkiness at times, the show looks pretty solid overall.

Audio:

Again, not necessarily a show I would expect a superb audio experience from, but Portlandia is pretty average in this category as well.  The standard Dolby Digital 2.0 track does enough to make the show easy to listen to, but there is not enough to really broaden it further.  Dialogue is clear enough, but it’s all coming up front, lacking the surround quality that is nice to get from a Blu-ray.

Extras:

I find it entertainingly fitting that the Blu-ray case is completely made of cardboard, fitting with the nature of the series.  With that said, there is not a whole lot offered up in the way of extra features, but it has a few bits of extra fun.

Features Include:

Commentary on over four episodes with Fred, Carrie, and Jonathan Krisel – These are low key and full of shout outs to places in Portland.  An okay batch of commentaries, but not the best I have heard.

Portlandia: The Tour: Seattle – A brief featurette, with Carrie, Fred, and special guests bringing a version of the show to the stage in Seattle.

Inside Portlandia – A 20-minute look at the series, which has a lot of footage from Season 1, which was kind of distracting.

Deleted Scene: Feminine Bookstore

Brunch Village: The Director’s Cut – Given that I really loved this episode, I was happy to see an extended version of it.

Excerpt from the new book Portlandia: A Guide for Visitors

Summary:

Portlandia was a fun show to catch up with and I look forward to seeing more episodes, because I think the show can only become more confident in what it is presenting.  The Blu-ray presentation is fairly average and leaves more to be desired in the audio department, given the standard audio track.  Still, it is a show worth checking out and sticking with for a least a couple episodes to really get into the rhythm of the series.

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Aaron is a writer/reviewer for WhySoBlu.com.  Follow him on Twitter @AaronsPS3.
He also co-hosts a podcast,
Out Now with Aaron and Abe, available via iTunes or at HHWLOD.com.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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